MATTHEWS – Covenant Day boys basketball coach Marty Parrish knows what it’s going to take to raise his program’s success level and on Nov. 29 it all came to fruition before his eyes.
The Lions had won three games in the 2016-17 season before Parrish arrived. Last season was Parrish’s first, but the Lions again struggled with personnel and competing in the CISAA, which is among the state’s top private school conferences. They again won just three games and lost them mostly in blowout fashion. Only one defeat was less than double figures.
Six seniors and last season’s leading scorer are gone (from the 2017-18 Lions), but it’s been addition by subtraction so far.
Parrish said he’s gotten his team to compete every day in practice, the first of four steps in a mantra an old coach once told him was the secret to consistently winning.
The second step is winning games at home and the Lions have done that, beating Arborbrook Christian (62-60) and Combine Academy (72-69) in close games.
But on Nov. 29 the Lions traveled to Charlotte Catholic, a team that won the NCHSAA title just four years ago and one coming off a 25-win season, albeit with a different roster.
And Covenant Day was 0-11 in road games under Parrish and had lost 20 straight away from home dating back to Jan. 29, 2016 at Charlotte Latin.
But it was the Lions who came out of the gates the more composed team. They hung with the Cougars through the first quarter and turned an 18-2 second quarter run into a surprising 30-15 halftime lead.
With every shot that fell, the Lions’ confidence soared, but it wouldn’t last.
Charlotte Catholic opened the third quarter with a 14-5 spurt that trimmed that lead to six. The lead stayed single digits throughout the fourth quarter, but Kevin McArdle had a good look at a corner 3-pointer that would have won the game for Catholic at the buzzer, but instead sent it into overtime.
Catholic took its first lead since going up 13-12 early after two McArdle’s free throws put the Cougars ahead 51-50.
But the Lions would regain their composure again, eventually winning a huge game for their program, 56-55.
Landen King, who had scored 11 first half points off the bench and ended with a game-high 20, scored six of the Lions eight points in the decisive overtime.
Parrish said he wasn’t sure his team would react after Catholic retook the lead, but was ecstatic how it all unfolded.
“I didn’t know how they’d respond,” he said. “It’s one of those things that scares you to death because you played so well in the first half and you’re kind of waiting on the other shoe to drop. And then it dropped.”
There are many reasons for their success, starting at point guard.
Junior Jacob Dahlberg started last season, averaging about seven points per game, but 1.6 turnovers against 1.1 assists.
This season, Dahlberg is averaging 12 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists. He’s still averaging a pair of turnovers, but the ball never comes out of his hands. Against Catholic, Dahlberg scored 10 points, but played outstanding defense, ran the team to perfection and never came off the court.
“He’s solid and I think he played every minute out there,” Parrish said. “I don’t think we took him out, and that’s tough because I know he got tired.”
Another of Dahlberg’s many strengths is his communication, which comes in handy with Hamidou Sidibe, a super athletic 6-4 junior who leads the Lions with 14.5 points and had 11 points against Catholic.
Sidibe was born in France to Senegalese parents and came to Covenant Day last August. He’s a little raw, but he’s been a big addition and helped defensively by Dahlberg, who is like a second coach on the floor.
“He’s a great student and a great athlete, but he’s still kind of learning the team game a little bit,” Parrish said of Sidibe. “The way they play over there is almost like one-on-one-on-one”
Getting better fast fits what the Lions are doing.
Sidibe and Dahlberg are consistent leaders who will be there all year.
King averaged 1.7 points last year, but is lighting it up this season off the bench.
Caleb Ross (4.7 points) has remained a starter and is playing well while Wyatt Kelada averages six points and four rebounds after scoring about a point per game as a reserve last year.
Sophomore Brit Anderson averages about nine points per game and is also much improved with the additional playing time he’s been getting.
John Ward gets some action at guard, the Lions rotation is set and the results are paying off.
Now, after the biggest road win this program has had in at least four seasons, Parrish is hoping his team is ready to take the third step – consistently winning on the road – of his four-step plan to winning.
“The hope is that it’s our first lesson in how to win,” he said. “Now the hope is we got a taste of it. Maybe we can start to recognize earlier what contributes to a loss or a win, but we haven’t done it before.”
The fourth step, Parrish said, is winning playoff games. He knows that’s down the road, but he also knows this team is different.
They’re talented and with each of the four 3-pointers King hit off the bench he gained confidence. They all did, pulling off a huge upset on the road.
Now they have to sustain it. Parrish thinks they can, but it’s going to take some patience and a little time.
“We’d like to get more consistent, hold on to that 30-15 (first half lead against Catholic) a little while longer, not go to overtime,” he said. “We could have made it cleaner, but they’re coming from a culture which isn’t used to winning or expecting to win so it’s a lot of firsts for them.”